Matt Brown: Team contest serves up drama

Lebanese player Ibrahim Abou Chahine during the Davis Cup. Photo / Michael Craig
Lebanese player Ibrahim Abou Chahine during the Davis Cup. Photo / Michael Craig

It was February, 2000. Robert Mugabe had just started his land grabs in Zimbabwe and the US Davis Cup team had arrived in Harare for a World Group tie. Spearheaded by Andre Agassi, the Americans were expected to be far too strong for the locals.

I was fortunate to witness an exhilarating first round tie, inspired by the Black brothers Byron and Wayne. Zimbabwe led 2-1 heading into the final day's singles rubbers, only for Agassi and Chris Woodruff to fight back for a 3-2 victory. It was an epic tie, with 8000 passionate home fans roaring their team on.

There is something magical about the Davis Cup, one of the world's longest-running sporting competitions that every so often produces incredible upsets when lower-ranked players stun the world's best.

I remember fondly the halcyon days of New Zealand tennis when Chris Lewis, Onny Parun, Russell Simpson and Bruce Derlin took the country to the brink of the Davis Cup final in 1982.

New Zealand were still competitive in the 1990s thanks largely to the feats of Kelly Evernden and Brett Steven.

The country hosted numerous world group qualifying ties against powerful nations such as Australia, Spain and Switzerland. These ties captured the nation's attention, attracting big crowds and extensive television and radio coverage.

Sadly those days are long gone, with New Zealand having not played a world group qualifying tie for 20 years and languishing in the Asia Oceania zone against the likes of next week's opponents Pakistan.

The congested calendar has led to growing resistance from many of the top players to contest every tie. The Davis Cup is squeezed in between short breaks in the ATP Tour and immediately after grand slams. There have been calls to reduce rubbers to best-of-three sets and play over two days instead of three.

The absence of the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic over the years has impacted on its status.

They complain there's too much tennis, yet continue to take part in exhibition events like the Indian Premier Tennis League.

But there are still hundreds of players around the world who play for their country in every tie. For many, there is something special about representing their country in a competition that has run for more than 100 years.

In an individual sport where winning grand slams is the ultimate prize, the Davis Cup still offers something different. The often intimidating hostile atmospheres provide drama. Google the 1996 final between Sweden and France in Malmo where late on a Sunday night Arnold Boetsch defeated Nicklas Kulti 10-8 in the fifth set to hand France the title. You would be hard pressed to find much better sporting theatre.

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf03 at 09 Dec 2016 08:24:59 Processing Time: 478ms